Abigail Adams: A Life
In this new, vivid, nuanced portrait, now in paperback, prize-winning historian Woody Holton uses original sources and letters for the first time in a sweeping reinterpretation of Adams's life story and of women's roles in the creation of the republic.
In this vivid new biography of Abigail Adams, the most illustrious woman of the founding era, Bancroft Award–winning historian Woody Holton offers a sweeping reinterpretation of Adams’s life story and of women’s roles in the creation of the republic.
Using previously overlooked documents from numerous archives, Abigail Adams shows that the wife of the second president of the United States was far more charismatic and influential than historians have realized. One of the finest writers of her age, Adams passionately campaigned for women’s education, denounced sex discrimination, and matched wits not only with her brilliant husband, John, but with Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. When male Patriots ignored her famous appeal to “Remember the Ladies,” she accomplished her own personal declaration of independence: Defying centuries of legislation that assigned married women’s property to their husbands, she amassed a fortune in her own name.
Adams’s life story encapsulates the history of the founding era, for she defined herself in relation to the people she loved or hated (she was never neutral), a cast of characters that included her mother and sisters; Benjamin Franklin and James Lovell, her husband’s bawdy congressional colleagues; Phoebe Abdee, her father’s former slave; her financially naïve husband; and her son John Quincy.
At once epic and intimate, Abigail Adams, sheds light on a complicated, fascinating woman, one of the most beloved figures of American history.
lesson of the rebellion, she informed Adams, was that “The reins of Government must e’er long be drawn closer.” Abigail agreed that the fundamental problem was not economic, as the rebels claimed, but political. In liberating themselves from the oppression of the British monarchy, she believed, the residents of Massachusetts and the other states had swung too far toward the other extreme, creating governments that were too susceptible to popular pressure. “Our Liberty is become licentiousness,”
“Charles increases in buisness and in reputation,” a relieved Abigail told his elder brother. She could scarcely have imagined that as Smith sank further into the quicksand, he would drag Charles and even John Quincy down with him. On February 7, 1797, when Congress gathered to hear how each state’s electors had voted, it fell to John Adams, as the sitting vice president, to break open the sixteen sealed packages and announce the totals. The extreme Federalists’ efforts to push Pinckney ahead of
lady had only just put on mourning for Charles, and had it not been for her predecessor’s “pressing invitation,” she would not have made the trip. Abigail’s first impression of Mount Vernon was similar to what she had written a short time earlier about the executive mansion. The location was magnificent: from the piazza one had “a fine view of the River Potomac at the bottom of the Lawn.” But the building itself was underwhelming. “The Rooms are small and low, as well as the Chambers,” she wrote.
AFC, 4:344, 357. 174¶1 AA to JA, July 17–18, 1782, AFC, 4:344. 174¶2 AA to JA, May 1, 1780, April 23, 1781, July 17–18, 1782, AFC, 3:335, 4:106, 347. 175¶1 JA to AAS, Sept. 26, 1782, JA to AA, Oct. 12, 1782, AFC, 4:383–84, 5:15. Neither JA nor his son JQA, who followed in his footsteps as an American diplomat, was ever granted the rank of ambassador, but friends and relatives of both men frequently referred to them as such in informal correspondence, a usage that is also adopted here. 175¶2 AA to
Boston office, and in October he sent her positive instructions. “I have advised you before to remove my Office from Boston to Braintree,” he wrote. “It is now, I think absolutely necessary. Let the best Care be taken of all Books and Papers.” Abigail thought John’s fears were overblown. She knew he was feeling terrible about having left his family in a far more vulnerable position than himself, and she was sure he was exaggerating the danger of a conflagration in eastern Massachusetts. Her